The Generals by Thomas E. Ricks
American Military Command from World War II to Today

65%

8 Critic Reviews

Mr. Ricks never proves whether or not relieving generals in war works; the book only assumes that it does.
-NY Journal of Books

Synopsis

From the #1 bestselling author of Fiasco and The Gamble, an epic history of the decline of American military leadership from World War II to Iraq

History has been kind to the American generals of World War II—Marshall, Eisenhower, Patton, and Bradley—and less kind to the generals of the wars that followed. In The Generals, Thomas E. Ricks sets out to explain why that is. In part it is the story of a widening gulf between performance and accountability. During the Second World War, scores of American generals were relieved of command simply for not being good enough. Today, as one American colonel said bitterly during the Iraq War, “As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war.”

In The Generals we meet great leaders and suspect ones, generals who rose to the occasion and those who failed themselves and their soldiers. Marshall and Eisenhower cast long shadows over this story, as does the less familiar Marine General O. P. Smith, whose fighting retreat from the Chinese onslaught into Korea in the winter of 1950 snatched a kind of victory from the jaws of annihilation.

But Korea also showed the first signs of an army leadership culture that neither punished mediocrity nor particularly rewarded daring. In the Vietnam War, the problem grew worse until, finally, American military leadership bottomed out. The My Lai massacre, Ricks shows us, is the emblematic event of this dark chapter of our history. In the wake of Vietnam a battle for the soul of the U.S. Army was waged with impressive success. It became a transformed institution, reinvigorated from the bottom up. But if the body was highly toned, its head still suffered from familiar problems, resulting in tactically savvy but strategically obtuse leadership that would win battles but end wars badly from the first Iraq War of 1990 through to the present.

Ricks has made a close study of America’s military leaders for three decades, and in his hands this story resounds with larger meaning: about the transmission of values, about strategic thinking, and about the difference between an organization that learns and one that fails.

 

About Thomas E. Ricks

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Thomas E. Ricks is The Washington Post’s senior Pentagon correspondent, where he has covered the U.S. military since 2000. Until the end of 1999 he held the same beat at The Wall Street Journal, where he was a reporter for seventeen years. A member of two Pulitzer Prize- winning teams for national reporting, he has reported on U.S. military activities in Somalia, Haiti, Korea, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Kuwait, Turkey, Afghanistan, and Iraq. He is the author of Fiasco, Making the Corps, and A Soldier’s Duty.
 
Published October 30, 2012 by Penguin Books. 578 pages
Genres: History, War, Professional & Technical, Biographies & Memoirs. Non-fiction
Bestseller Status:
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Peak Rank on Nov 18 2012
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Weeks as Bestseller
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Critic reviews for The Generals
All: 8 | Positive: 5 | Negative: 3

Kirkus

Good
on Jan 07 2013

Informed readers, especially military buffs, will appreciate this provocative, blistering critique of a system where accountability appears to have gone missing... this book is bound to cause heartburn in the Pentagon.

Read Full Review of The Generals: American Milita... | See more reviews from Kirkus

Publishers Weekly

Good
on Aug 20 2012

...Ricks presents an incisive, hard-hitting corrective to unthinking veneration of American military prowess.

Read Full Review of The Generals: American Milita... | See more reviews from Publishers Weekly

WSJ online

Above average
Reviewed by Andrew Roberts on Oct 28 2012

Ultimately, Mr. Ricks's faith in the power of sacking generals en masse is unconvincing, though it makes for a highly entertaining book—so long as you're not a general.

Read Full Review of The Generals: American Milita... | See more reviews from WSJ online

NY Journal of Books

Below average
Reviewed by Gian Gentile on Oct 30 2012

Mr. Ricks never proves whether or not relieving generals in war works; the book only assumes that it does.

Read Full Review of The Generals: American Milita... | See more reviews from NY Journal of Books

LA Times

Above average
Reviewed by Tony Perry on Nov 09 2012

His conclusions are stark, fact-based and strongly argued...

Read Full Review of The Generals: American Milita... | See more reviews from LA Times

Dallas News

Above average
Reviewed by TOD ROBBERSON on Nov 10 2012

This book will no doubt satisfy war-history buffs who want greater insight into what distinguishes great commanders from mediocre ones.

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HistoryNet

Below average
Reviewed by Dennis Showalter on Nov 02 2012

Ricks' proposals for reforming leadership are less important than his demonstration that the problem's roots lie in bureaucratization. Accountability is bureaucratization's nemesis in any system. The challenge lies in implementing it.

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Marine Corps Gazette

Good
Reviewed by LtCol F.G. Hoffman on Jan 07 2013

...does argue that we should shoulder our share and regenerate a mastery of strategic leadership...For this fact alone, The Generals is strongly recommended reading for all students of the art of war.

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